Walter Briggs Sets Off For NCAA Outdoor Championships
ALBANY, N.Y. – For the third straight season, the University at Albany track & field program will send a representative to the NCAA Outdoor Championships. This year, Walter Briggs will compete in the men’s 400m hurdles.
Briggs, a junior, arrived this season at UAlbany after transferring from SUNY Delhi, where he won the NJCAA Division III outdoor title in the 400m hurdles in 2015, helping his team claim first place overall by more than 100 points. While at Delhi, Briggs recorded a personal best of 53.11 in the 400m hurdles, and displayed a wide range of proficiency, with best marks of 22.24 in the 200m and 1:57.30 in the 800m.
“Walter is full of talent,” said Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Roberto Vives. “He doesn’t know how good he’ll be. He just going to get better, and perhaps will hold our school record when he’s finished.”
Briggs placed second in his first race as a Great Dane last December in Boston University’s season opener, crossing the line in the 400m in 49.50. He would go on to lead UAlbany in the 500m, winning the America East Indoor title in the event in 1:02.86. Time was 13th-best in the country during the indoor season.
Because no long hurdles event exists during the indoor season, the closest substitute for a 400m hurdles race is arguably the 500m, due to the strength requirements both races call for.
“Indoors, his 1:02 in the 500m is as fast as Joe Greene and Alie Beauvais ran in the event,” said Vives, referring to the two fastest 400m hurdlers in program history. “If Walter can clean up his hurdles, he can be just as good as they were. He has the tools and he has the strength.”
Following more than a month without racing, Briggs returned to action at the Florida Relays at the end of March, placing 14th in the 400m hurdles in 52.50, the fastest time in the program since Jeremiah Obeng-Agyapong ran 52.41 at the 2015 IC4A Outdoor Championships.
“The event is still new to him,” said Vives. “His best time was 53.1 before he arrived here, but he had split 1:53 in the 800, showing he had good strength, and 47.6 in the 400m, showing he had the speed. He has all the tools for the 400m hurdles.
“We taught him how to alternate in the winter,” Vives continued. “He picked it up quickly. Now, we’re working on the first part of his race. If he can get out faster, I can see him running in the low 50s in Eugene. I knew he could run 50 this year after his performance in Florida”.
The 400m hurdles event holds a special place in UAlbany’s program under Coach Vives. Greene is a three-time All-American in the event, and Grace Claxton has run in the 400m hurdles at the Olympics and World Outdoor Championships. Further, Vives has had tremendous success converting flat 400m runners to the 400m hurdles, a group both Greene and Claxton headline historically.
“He’s really embraced the legacy this event has in our program,” said Vives. “He ran down the favorite at America East Outdoor Championships, who was racing in front of his home crowd. And having Grace around is encouraging. Not many people have an Olympian in their event guiding them.”
Briggs would lower his time further at the Penn Relays a month after Florida, placing 10th in 52.24. The following week, he won the 400m hurdles at the America East Outdoor Championships in another personal-best 51.05, moving into third place in program history behind school record holder Greene (49.67) and second best all-time Beauvais (49.99). Briggs also placed second in the 110m hurdles in a personal-best 14.32, and took home a relay title as a member of the men’s 4x400m relay.
“Walter alternates well,” said Vives of Briggs’ strengths during his races. “And he judges the approaching hurdles well. He attacks well also, especially at the end of the race. He hits the last four hurdles cleanly.
“The fastest I ever timed Joe Greene from hurdle 10 to the finish line was 5.28 seconds,” Vives continued. “Walter hit 5.04 at conference championships.”
At the NCAA East Preliminary Championships, Briggs advanced in the first round with a 51.61, and then qualified for NCAA Outdoor Championships 12th overall in a new personal-best 50.95. Briggs will be making his first-ever trip to Hayward Field at the University of Oregon for the championship meet.
“Walter understands he’s our representative this year at NCAA Outdoor Championships,” said Vives. “And this is his first time through, so a lot of the trip is about getting experience. I think he can run a personal best on Wednesday. The plan is to treat Wednesday’s race like a final. He’s the 24th seed in a field of 24 so he has no other choice if he wants to advance to the final. I think a reasonable goal for Walter is to earn Second Team All-America honors, which are awarded to the 9th-16th-place finishers. Whatever happens this week, it bodes well for him for next year.”
Though Briggs will be making his first trip to Hayward Field and making his first appearance at NCAA Outdoor Championships, he has teammates and coaches who have been there before who have helped him prepare for the moment. The last three Great Danes to make it to this stage, Claxton, Adrian Mitchell, and Matthew Campbell, are either still on the roster or a member of the coaching staff.
“He speaks with Adrian and Matthew and Grace constantly,” said Vives. “And Coach Junior as well, since he competed at these big meets during his own career. He’s confident, and he’s ready to go. This week, he just needs to get out quickly, and get more comfortable with the first part of his race. But he’s still on the way up.”
Briggs has drawn lane one in the first heat of the event. Also in heat one is top overall seed Rai Benjamin from the University of Southern California. The top two in each of the three semifinal heats and the next two fastest times overall advance to Friday’s final. The men’s 400m hurdles is scheduled to go off at 9:30 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, June 6. The meet can be streamed on ESPN3 and will broadcast live on ESPN2 Wednesday evening starting at 7:30 p.m. Eastern.